Dear Compassionate Colleague,
Are you feeling overwhelmed by the challenging behaviors of some of your students? Are the challenges beginning to take a toll on you personally as well as professionally? This is true for many of us, especially those of us whose self-worth is connected to being a “good teacher”. Maybe we used to “do a good job”, however the way we used to teach no longer works for some of our students and we are beginning to feel like failures. You are not alone. There is a crisis of compassion fatigue, 2nd hand trauma, happening across the US in helping professions such as education. Learning about trauma, and its impact, is a helpful way to explore new strategies for today’s challenges for our students as well as ourselves.
It is essential that educators understand our own trauma and how trauma impacts the way we show up in the world as well as our ability to respond to the traumas of our students which are often exhibited as extreme challenging behaviors. The purpose of this blog post his to help get you started on the journey of discovering how trauma impacts health and learning.
“How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across a Lifetime” Ted Talk by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95ovIJ3dsNk is a powerful introduction to the understanding of how “repeated stress of abuse, neglect and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain.” Dr. Harris talks about how Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) not only effect learning, but also our health over our lifetime.
Take the ACE Quiz for yourself and learn what it does and does not mean. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/03/02/387007941/take-the-ace-quiz-and-learn-what-it-does-and-doesnt-mean
Having personally experienced trauma at a young age, and having an ACE score of 4, I know first-hand some of the effects that trauma had on me. I was one of those students who acted out for attention because I wanted to feel loved. We have often heard, “negative attention is better than no attention.” In addition, I had severe eating disorders to stuff my feelings of shame and anger. I am grateful to say that I have been on a healing journey for more than half of my life and have been free from binging, starving and purging for more than 20 years one day at a time.
After more than 30 years as an educator, I am finally coming to understand the reason for my son’s executive functioning challenges. They are primarily due to the trauma he experienced as a result of my divorce from his father, his father’s alcoholism, homelessness and finally death from the disease of alcoholism.
The Child Trauma Toolkit for Educators offers helpful information and strategies to create more trauma responsive learning environments. Page 17 provides some guidance around addressing our own compassion fatigue and I encourage you to start there. Unless we put our own oxygen mask on first, we will have nothing to give to others. https://wmich.edu/sites/default/files/attachments/u57/2013/child-trauma-toolkit.pdf
To dig more deeply in the effects of trauma and to learn about the solutions, I encourage you to visit Dr. Harris’s website https://centerforyouthwellness.org/ and read her new book, “The Deepest Well”.
Here is a link to a variety of additional resources about trauma https://sites.google.com/site/rprjactionresearch/trauma-respo
Wishing you peace as your transform the hearts and minds of the students whom you serve.
With warmest love, gratitude and respect,